Which Type of Nail Gun or Nailer Do You Need for the Job?
Ahh…the good old claw hammer. Such a wonderfully ubiquitous construction tool. Especially if you’re just putting up a picture on the wall. Or doing a quick repair on something, or just venting your frustration… But seriously...if the job is more involved, and you’ll be hammering away until you’ve got a headache…you’ll really want to get a nail gun, or nailer.
Not only does a nail gun save you a hell of a lot of time, you’ll save yourself the headache as well. Instead of mulitiple taps to get than nail in, you’ll need only one from the nail gun…pow!..and it’s in. When it comes to nail guns, unfortunately one size doesn’t fit all. You need one that best fits the job at hand. There are several different types for specific jobs...
A Word about Safety, First
Any tool can be dangerous in the wrong hands. This is especially so for power tools. While nail guns have been designed to not fire unless the pressure tip is first pressed against the work, you can still accidentally tap it against something if you’re pressing the trigger as well (see dual-contact firing, just below).
There are two types of firing mechanisms in a nail gun. One is dual-contact firing, where the nail will fire as long as you hold down the trigger and press the nosing against the work. This allows you to fire a nail, move to the next spot and continue with a series of nails without having to release and re-press the trigger each time.
The other is sequential firing, which is a bit safer. This requires that you release the trigger first, before each nail is fired. The nosing must be pressed onto the work before the trigger will function. Improvements in safety of nail guns is ongoing.
Be alert at all times...please.
Let’s start with the heaviest duty nailer..the framing nailer. As the name suggests, this type of nailer is used for wood framing in a building, and heavy construction. This frequently requires up to 3½” nails to join 2x4’s. Heavy-duty is the order of the day. All these models offer switchable contact or sequential trip, and tool-free depth-drive adjustment.
The next type is a roofing nailer. This generally uses shorter nails with larger heads, and can also be used for siding and similar materials as well. The nails usually come on a coil. These models also offer switchable contact or sequential trip, and tool-free depth-drive adjustment.
Our next type is a flooring nailer. These are specially designed to make laying tongue-and-groove floor boards simple and fast. You won’t have to wear out your knees. You simply hold the nailer against the edge of the board and a moderate whack on the plunger with the nylon mallet, and the nail is in..at the right angle and the right depth..every time.
The finishing nailer is your best all-around nailer for indoor trim and similar jobs. This uses shorter, lighter gauge nails, usually 14 to 16 gauge, 1” to 2½” nails. This is used for mouldings around windows and doors, baseboards, chair rails and such, as well as cabinet making. Finishing nailers are available both as air compression and as cordless nailers. All these models offer switchable contact or sequential trip, and tool-free depth-drive adjustment.
A lighter duty nailer is a brad nailer for 18-gauge nails, 5/8” to 2”. Brad nailers differ from the finishing nailers mostly by the fact that the nail magazine is not angled as with finishing and framing nailers. The brad nailer is usually used for smaller wood projects, upholstery and other such precision work. While the brads are small, and leave a fairly tiny hole to fill, they hold really well. As with most nailers these days, all these models offer switchable contact or sequential trip, and tool-free depth-drive adjustment.
About cordless nailers
The cordless nailers are currently more expensive than the pneumatic models, but of course they don’t require that you have a compressor, or a hose to deal with. Some cordless nailers use a fuel cell for nail propulsion, which needs to be replaced every 500 nails though, so you have to take that cost into account.
The battery-charged models don’t have such a requirement. The cordless, use-it-anywhere aspect is the real selling feature here, much like cordless drills have freed up the necessity of a power cord.
That pretty much nails it…
While nail guns (or nailers) have been around for about 25 years, many refinements have been made. Newer materials like magnesium and aluminum alloys have made the tools lighter. Plus more attention has been paid to ergonomic design, so that the tool is properly balanced and easier to grip. Adjusting the firing method no longer requires a special tool. Adjusting the depth of the nail no longer requires adjusting the air compressor.
Cordless models which don’t require a compressor, and therefore a hose are now widely available. Whether you’re a professional contractor or a DIY homeowner, you’ll find you get the job done in less than half the time it would have taken with a hammer and nails.
Many of these nailers could pay for themselves in no time.
Questions & Answers
I want to replace my old fence. I am thinking about buying wood fence pickets 1/2" by 5-1/2" by 6ft. So, what type of brad nailer do you recommend?
I would actually recommend a finishing nailer in this case. A brad nailer is for smaller, upholstery type of work. For fence boards (they're typically closer to 5/8" thick), use 1 1/4" to 1 1/2" nails.
What degree of framing nailer is best to build a deck?
For the structural parts of the deck frame (2x8's), a framing nailer is the best type to use.
For the deck boards and railings, use a finishing nailer, and heavy, 16 gauge nails, 1 3/4" to 2" long. However, the deck boards may hold to the joists a few years longer, if you use deck screws instead.
I want to replace my old wooden porch railings and stair railings. What type of nailer would you recommend?
If you're going through 2x4's into 2x2's, and you don't want big nail heads or to use screws, I'd go with a finishing nailer, and use fairly long nails (3", 16-18 ga.).
I'm planning on doing some fairly light framing for a travel trailer. The studs are 2"×2". What type of nailer do you recommend?
Assuming you don't want to see large nail heads, use a finishing nailer, with 3" (16-18 ga.) nails.
I'm getting ready to install quite a bit of exterior wood trim around windows and doors. I don't want a nail with a head; I want an exterior finish nail. What kind of nailer should I get?
I would suggest a finishing nailer, using a 16 gauge nail. Most of these nails don't have much of a head anyway. The nail shaft is coated with a glue that melts (because of the friction) as it goes into the work. The glue hardens again, holding the parts firmly, thus minimizing the need for a nail 'head' to hold the front piece. The resulting small holes on the trim can then be filled with spackling, sanded and painted.
© 2011 Tim Nichol